Goal is to secure a direct spot for 2026 World Cup: Ivankovic

Sports Wednesday 30/August/2023 19:32 PM
By: Times News Service
Goal is to secure a direct spot for 2026 World Cup: Ivankovic

MUSCAT: With eight direct slots allotted to members of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, jointly hosted by the USA, Canada and Mexico, Oman’s chief coach Branko Ivankovic of Croatia has set his sights on a direct qualification for his Red Warriors.

For the first time, Asia will have eight direct spots to a FIFA World Cup with an additional nation participating in the FIFA play-off tournament for a possible total of nine AFC participants at the expanded 48-nation global finals.

The qualification process involves five rounds; the first two of which will also serve as the qualification for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup in Saudi Arabia.

At a press briefing held at City Seasons Hotel on Wednesday, coach Ivankovic unveiled a 24-member national squad as they launch their preparations for the joint qualification for Asian Cup and FIFA World Cup in the second round.

The players have been called for a domestic camp that will be held in Muscat from September 1-7. During the camp, Oman will play an international friendly match against the visiting Palestine side on September 6.

The national team, ranked world No. 73, will then travel to USA for an international friendly game against the hosts and world No.11 side on September 12 in Minnesota.

Speaking to media persons on Wednesday, Ivankovic said: “We have two major assignments ahead – the joint qualification for the World Cup and Asian Cup and the 2024 Asian Cup in Qatar.

“With the expansion of FIFA World Cup 2026 to 48 teams and eight teams from Asia eligible for direct spots, our goal is to secure one of the direct Asian slots to the World Cup. 

‘Musalami may reconsider decision to call it a day’

One of the notable absentee from the squad announced on Wednesday was the name of former captain and one of the most experienced defender Mohammed al Musalami.

It may be mentioned that Musalam had announced his retirement from international football in March.

Ivankovic said: “We [OFA chairman Sheikh Salim al Wahaibi and myself] have contacted him and he has asked some more time to rethink on his decision of retirement. He is a valuable players and a leader and it would be good to have him back in the team soon.”

He said that Al Mundher al Alawi, Amjad al Harthy, Arshad al Alawi, Yazeed al Mashani and Hatim al Rashdi are not in the squad for fitness and injury reasons and hoped they recover soon.

Oman’s WC campaign to start in November

Oman have been drawn in Group D of joint FIFA and Asian Cup Qualifiers second round with Kyrgyz Republic, Malaysia and winner of Chinese Taipei vs Timor Leste match, who feature among 20 nations in the first round. Oman’s opening Group D match will be on November 16 at home against Chinese Taipei or Timor Leste.

The second round matches will be held from November 16, 2023-June 11, 2024.

Those 10 nations from the first round join the remaining 26 in the second round, which will feature nine groups of four nations, with the winners and runners-up then progressing through to the third round.

The 18 nations that reach the third round will be divided into three groups of six, via a draw conducted at a later date, with the top two nations in each group qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.

The fourth round consists of the half-dozen nations that finished third and fourth in the third round being slotted into two groups of three, with the winner of both groups also receiving a direct ticket to the FIFA World Cup.

The fifth round features the two runners-up from the fourth round clashing in a two-legged, home-and-away tie to determine Asia’s representative in the FIFA play-off tournament.

Squad: Ahmed Al Rawahi, Ibrahim Al Mukhaini, Fayez Al Rushedi, Mahmood Al Mushaifri, Ahmed Al Kaabi, Motaz Saleh, Khalid Al Breiki, Ahmed Al Khamisi, Ahmed Al Matroushi, Fahmi Said, Juma Al Habsi, Musab Al Maamari, Tamim Al Balushi, Harib Al Saadi, Salah Al Yahyaei, Zaher Al Aghbari, Abdul Rahman Al Mushaifri, Ali Al Hinai, Abdullah Fawaz, Jameel Al Yahmadi, Mohsin Al Ghassani, Ahmed Al Adawi, Omar Al Malki and Issam Al Subhi.